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Farmer vs. Monsanto Patent Case May Affect Industries from Software to Nanotech

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by Publius
Posted February 15, 2013, 10:01 AM

The Wall Street Journal reports:

A dispute between an Indiana farmer and Monsanto Co. over soybean seeds has sprouted into a U.S. Supreme Court case that could have broad implications for industries from software to nanotechnology.

At issue is how long Monsanto can claim patent protection for its genetically engineered seeds. The crop-biotechnology company is squaring off against 75-year-old Vernon "Hugh" Bowman, whom it sued in 2007 after he planted soybeans that came from crops grown by other farmers using Monsanto seeds.

Monsanto contends its patent protection extends beyond its first-generation seeds, while Mr. Bowman argues the company's patent rights were exhausted by the time he bought later-generation seeds from a local grain elevator. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments from each side Tuesday.

How the high court rules could influence patent rights for other companies developing technologies that either replicate themselves or can be copied by their users. Various trade groups have filed briefs supporting Monsanto, including organizations representing software firms such as Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. The groups say a ruling against the seed maker would "eviscerate" tech companies' patent protection.

Monsanto says that if the Supreme Court sides with Mr. Bowman, farmers would essentially become its competition, able to produce the same seeds it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop. The company says that would make bringing new biotech soybean seeds to market "nigh impossible" for Monsanto.

Lower federal courts have ruled in the company's favor. The Supreme Court said in October that it would hear the case over the objections of the Obama administration, which had urged the justices to leave the lower-court rulings in place.

While Monsanto's genetically modified soybeans—introduced in the 1990s—are among the earliest examples of self-replicating products, there are numerous others in the field of molecular biology. They include new cell lines, manufactured DNA and nanotechnologies that are expected to become more prevalent with time, says Hans Sauer, an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based Biotechnology Industry Organization, which has 1,100 members, including Monsanto.

Software companies, meanwhile, fear a negative ruling could open the door for people who download their products to capture a temporary copy of the software and then sell copies of that.

Large research universities whose faculty members often develop patented technologies have filed briefs in support of St. Louis-based Monsanto as well.  . . .

 

 

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